Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Ever a sucker for a good turn of phrase

Before the uber intelligent Scott Carson of An Examined Life wanders off into prose that I'm not smart enough to understand (at least at this hour), he frequently kicks it off with a pithy introduction. I thought I'd bring you an example in hope that some of you will find his thoughts as intriguing as I.
To be perfectly honest, dear reader, I begin this post in the hope of allowing myself the luxury, at some point herein, to trash the liturgical tastes of my co-religionists at great length, because verily I say unto you that I have suffered through too many banal liturgies with too much banal music and I am about ready to puke.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

God da....oh, I'm sorry

I often praise the Lord (though I also wonder why it should be so) that merely by his presence, and without saying a word, a servant of God should frequently prevent people from speaking against Him.

- St. Teresa of Avila, The Way of Perfection

Anybody familiar with her style knew it was her by the first parenthetical comment - Teresa and St. Paul ("I am not lying" or "I speak as a fool") both have this habit.

Isn't this true? How many times have people to whom you have never deliberately witnessed, taken the name of the Lord in vain or used a vulgarity and then turned and apologized to you? Or, conversely, when you yourself have used a swear word (I'm thinking of the milder scatalogical ones), they laugh and say "I never expected to hear that out of you!"

It IS a good reminder to guard our tongues when someone is surprised by our speech, but the original thought is nice, isn't it? When people have to think about using the name of our Lord and Savior to express frustration or anger? Does it make Him more real to them?

I have devout friends who are driven piously crazy by "brown talk," as they term it. Having a taste for the salty, I like this verse:

Let your speech be always in grace seasoned with salt: that you may know how you ought to answer every man.

- St. Paul to the Colossians 4:6

Sunday, September 23, 2007

That's so on the blog!

It's time to initiate a new classification here on Exultet. It's an homage to (heck, it's an outright theft from) Cacciguida's description of one of his and Elinor's priceless dialogues.

To kick it off, here's something that caught my attention during this morning's homily on our need to become well-formed in Scripture and Church teaching:

"The 'trickle-down effect' of infallibility does not make it all the way to this pulpit."

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Where the heck am I?

The development labs of the Curt Jester have once again come up with an indispensable piece of equipment for our Christian travels - a spiritual GPS (Grace Positioning System).
Through gyroscopic precession the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son into your life is tracked. When you start to back slide it causes our specially made gyroscope and accelerometer in our inertial guidance system. The inertial guidance system measures directly how inert you are to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. When it detects back sliding the negative acceleration is detected and you are immediately warned.

One of its extra features is the Tabernacle Locator, handy for those churches where it's hard to know which direction to genuflect. Warning: plotted routes will tend to be narrow and steep rather than broad and flat.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Deeded over

I found something beautiful today in one of the books in the adoration chapel:
Has God, then, in giving himself for us, made himself ours? Yes, replies St. Bernard. 'He is born who belonged to himself.' He who appertained to himself chose to be born for us and to become ours; love triumphs over God.

This God, over whom none besides can rule, yielded himself captive to love. Love has gained the victory over him and, from being his own, has reduced him into our possession.

St. Alphonsus Liguori
The Incarnation, Birth and Infancy of Jesus Christ
--the Eternal Word, from being his own, has made himself ours

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Internet Monk, as usual, asks great questions

Michael Spencer, over at Internet Monk posted 5 Questions for Roman Catholics. Due to the fact that (1) it was linked by the ever-popular Amy Welborn, and (2) he wasn't able to get in to moderate and post comments for a while, he was flooded by voluminous and thoughtful answers of remarkable consistency.

Here are his questions:
  1. Do Roman Catholics consider Protestant ministers like myself valid ministers? More particularly, if a good friend becomes Roman Catholic, are they now confessionally required to believe that I was never called of God to be a minister?

  2. Why is so much of my dialog with Catholics frustrated with “cafeteria Catholicism?” Catholics will tell me that I must accept the church’s teaching on subject X, but if I point out that they also must accept the church’s teaching on subject Y, I often hear, “Don’t put words in my mouth. That’s not what I believe.” With all due respect, since when did the beliefs of an individual catholic matter? If a Protestant demonstrates that the church has infallibly taught Y, isn’t that the end of the discussion for the catholic?

  3. What would be the church’s view on someone who is convinced the Catholic faith is true, but who is unable or chooses not to openly convert to Catholicism at this time? Is such a person committing a sin?

  4. Exactly what is meant when a non-Catholic goes forward at communion to be blessed, but not partake? What if such a person- like myself- openly disagrees with some of the church’s teaching and is not seeking reception into the church?

  5. What is the church’s view of leadership and submission in marriage? Would the church teach that a wife should join the church over the objections of her Christian, but Protestant, spouse? If so, how does this fit into the church’s teaching on marriage?

My thoughts were stimulated by the questions but, as usual, I went in a slightly different direction. I sent him a note which I'll post here as the most efficient way to share my musings. I'd appreciate your thoughts.


I was fascinated by the questions you asked and the (remarkable) consistency of the answers. (That's what you get for moderating comments -- everyone speaks up thoroughly instead of building on what has gone before. It's illuminating.) Since I am nothing like a theologian, I was not particularly competent to give answers. But as a consultant and a business coach, questions are my business. And the answers you get always depend on the questions you ask. Your questions were, legitimately, about the Catholic Church's view on particular things. That's the right approach because, as you've noticed, if you ask individual Catholics what their particular opinion is, you'll get a wide and unhelpful range of answers. But there's a way that answers to those questions, good as they may be, might not really address the particular issue at hand.

There is a difference between Catholic and Evangelical mindset. (I'm going to speak in wide generalities for the sake of making a point. Please graciously impute more nuance than I'm articulating.

N.B. - A bit about my background: Raised Catholic, spent 15 years with late husband and family as Presbyterian, began considering return to Catholic Church around 2001, then did so about a year after his death (Easter, 2004). Long-time participant in interdenominational intentional Christian community, so I'm coming from a background of respect and familiarity with key commonalities and differences among denominations.])

In my view, most orthodox Christians share a temptation toward legalism, stemming from the human desire to avoid uncertainty and construct as much solid footing for ourselves as possible. If we learn something from God, we tend to want to extrapolate it to (1) others, and (2) situations that appear similar.

This plays out differently in Evangelicals and Catholics. For Protestants, doctrine and practice issues are determined at the level of congregation, presbytery, synod, reformed-branch-of-original-denomination and the like, often adapting (healthily or not) to cultural or situation-specific understandings. Therefore, it's not unexpected that we might find, for example, formal acceptance of finely-tuned analyses of the precise mechanisms of grace, salvation and predestination; establishment of unswerving primacy of one scriptural principle (i.e. wifely submission in marriage) to others (charity to the poor, say); or pastoral practices, beyond those found in scripture, that would foster a sense of community (such as prohibitions against drinking or dancing).

This desire for certainty seems to work itself out different in Catholics. It doesn't happen as much at the institutional level. Despite sometime appearances, the Catholic Church does not make "policy pronouncements" about issues unless it has been necessary at some point in history to do so, either because of a pressing leading of the Holy Spirit or in order to counter an error that is widespread and dangerous enough that it needs to be addressed. So we find the Church being very specific about, for instance, the truth that Jesus was fully God and fully man from the very beginning, or the fact that it is solely by God's grace and not our merit that we are saved. (See CCC para. 2009.) But it is not specific about the exact method by which that grace is made available to us because there isn't a clear understanding that's been given to the Church as a whole by the Holy Spirit. Respected and honored Catholic theologians have often expressed disagreeing ideas on important topics, and frequently either is held as acceptable for a Catholic to believe.

But, we have this desire for solid ground. So individual Catholics, in my experience, might experience more of a temptation to individualized scrupulosity. They may hairsplit about the things the Church has, in fact, already said. They may ask their parish priest exactly how high their temperature must be in order for them to be too sick to go to Mass. They may be critical of couples who choose to limit their family size, even if done so within the guidelines acceptable to the Church. They may lose sight of the fact that all prayer, devotion to saints, even frequent participation in the sacraments are only vehicles God uses to increase our union with him rather than ends in themselves.

Well, Michael, that is turning into quite a treatise from someone who is spectacularly unqualified to so do. But there is a point to this.

A number of the questions you asked really have the answer, "It depends." For instance, you brought up the situation of a woman whose husband discourages her conversion to the Catholic Church. I have a friend who is as Catholic as you can possibly be without being fully received into the church, but out of charity toward her (solidly Christian) husband who would have a strong antipathy toward her converting and leaving the church life that they have shared as a family, she is waiting and asking God to work in the situation. In my opinion, my friend is firmly in the middle of God's will for her life. However, another situation might call for another action. There are objective things that are right and wrong and will never change. But there are sometimes pastoral-application issues in which wisdom and counsel can be brought to bear. It's one reason that the ordained priesthood, the confessional, and the tradition of spiritual directors can be enrichments to Catholic life.

So, although there are non-negotiables that we need to accept as Catholics, there are many questions on which there are numerous acceptable answers. One of the questions facing a prospective Catholic is: "Can I accept the fact that there will be people in full communion with this Church who decidedly disagree with me on this?". When I was returning to the Church there were a number of issues I decided to wait and consider from inside the house rather than do it while I was lurking in the front garden, so to speak. The real presence of Jesus in the sacraments - yes, I was right there. The competence of God to preserve the Church as a whole from serious error - yes, I was there. An exact understanding of how I could draw near to Jesus by drawing near to Mary - well, that was going to take some time. But it wasn't necessary, and I was able to trust that there was a non-heretical understanding that I would enter into sooner or later. But I had to humbly accept that perhaps some of these people who I thought might be a little "off the deep end" might be further along in an understanding of the truth than I was.

Monday, September 17, 2007

What have I got for God?

During an excellent explanation of Mother Teresa's spiritual Calvary David Warren quoted John Henry Cardinal Newman:

If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him. In perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. ... He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.”

In my season of overwork (I hate summer: prickly heat, humidity and budgets), I sometimes look up at the crucifix before Mass begins and mentally empty out my pockets and purse. I have the nice thing I did for a neighbor, or a patience displayed with a gabby old relative, or even an act of humility when I didn't tell somebody I'd heard their joke before, but I more often have tension, exhaustion, mental dust bunnies, unresolved conflict at work, undone responsibilities.

Gotta offer it all up, a dusty wilted stale-smelling spiritual bouquet. Remember those? I found one I wrote out for my mother in a prayer book: One Our Father, One Hail Mary, One Glory Be and Playing With My Little Brother So My Mother Could Rest. Were that it was still so simple.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Pulling no punches

I've just discovered Frederica Mathewes-Green, former Episcopalian now Orthodox, former pro-choice now pro-life, author and speaker. This quotation is from "Personhood of the Unborn", broadcast on NPR's All Things Considered January 21, 1998.
When we question whether someone is a person, it is because we want to kill him. We do this with our enemies in wartime, or with anyone we would like to enslave or exploit. Before we can feel comfortable treating others this way, we have to expel them from the human community.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Science and religion: memorize this concept

The world of science lives fairly comfortably with paradox. We know that light is a wave, and also that light is a particle. The discoveries made in the infinitely small world of particle physics indicate randomness and chance, and I do not find it any more difficult to live with the paradox of a universe of randomness and chance and a universe of pattern and purpose than I do with light as a wave and light as a particle. Living with contradiction is nothing new to the human being.

By Madeline L'Engle (1918-2007), who died today, although her website hasn't mentioned it yet.

HT to Rod Dreher who links to the New Republic blog The Plank.

I LOVE this concept! Of course there is mental tension when thinking about science. Everybody who takes a physics class, even at an introductory level, runs across the mind-bender questions like "Astronaut Bob is flying away from Astronaut Adam at 80% of the speed of light. They fire at each other. Who dies first?" But does the atheist say that the unseeable but reasonable supposition that light is a wave and a particle means that scientists are deluded folk with magic invisible particles helping them see?

God rest her soul. Even on the day of her death, she was teaching me.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Cripples for dinner?

With Blessed Teresa of Calcutta in mind, today's Gospel is deceptively easy in the beginning and surprisingly hard at the finish:

On a sabbath Jesus went to dine
at the home of one of the leading Pharisees,
and the people there were observing him carefully.

He told a parable to those who had been invited,
noticing how they were choosing the places of honor at the table.
“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet,
do not recline at table in the place of honor.
A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him,
and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say,
‘Give your place to this man,’
and then you would proceed with embarrassment
to take the lowest place.
Rather, when you are invited,
go and take the lowest place
so that when the host comes to you he may say,
‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’
Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table.
For every one who exalts himself will be humbled,
but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Then he said to the host who invited him,
“When you hold a lunch or a dinner,
do not invite your friends or your brothers
or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors,
in case they may invite you back and you have repayment.
Rather, when you hold a banquet,
invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind;
blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.
For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

As I attain rank (mostly by virtue of seniority) in my profession, I have the worry of teaching others their jobs but I also have the privilege of sending them to do stuff to make my work life easier. I can actually get away with sending people to pick up my work from the printer, or make copies, or run and get me a reference document, or do icky little research or organization tasks to save me time. I've gotten awfully used to it, and don't quail as much as I used to; no explanations or apologies, just "go get me....please."

So I have the new occasion for sin of feeling pretty darn nice when I do a little running for a staffer when they're busy.

As my mother and aunts and uncles age, I and my cousins do a lot of door-holding and food-getting and ride-giving and "while I'm here, why don't I take out your garbage and change the light bulb and run stuff to the attic." They get first crack at the shrimp and the champagne and, after the little ones, even the piece of cake with the rose on it. It's very natural, because their age and infirmities, and our debt of life to them, makes it obvious and even kind of an honor (we won't have them forever).

So I go up high at work, and go down low in the family. In my self-conceit, I am tempted to think they balance. I know that's not for me to say, that I efface myself enough everywhere. Shoot.

About that second part, inviting the lame, the crippled, the poor: I can't even get a model of that in my mind. Be nice to the irritating woman who comes to an event at church that I volunteer for? Okay. Listen to the frighteningly immoral activities engaged in over the weekend by one of our more mistaken admin staff and seize upon the parts I can praise? Probably. But I think I'm totally blind to opportunity to give without ANY chance of return, not even of self-satisfaction. Someone explain it to me please.


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"There is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being. This much we know."

Pres. Barack Obama, Feb 5, 2009